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Central Africa Blames Fuel Shortage on Supply Disruptions, Smuggling

A driver carrying empty plastic containers pauses on his way to buy fuel from Angola and sell it back in Muanda, western Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 23, 2023.
A driver carrying empty plastic containers pauses on his way to buy fuel from Angola and sell it back in Muanda, western Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 23, 2023.

Central Africa has, for months, been plagued with acute fuel shortages that have stifled regional economic growth, disrupted local businesses, and contributed to rising food prices and social unrest. The shortages are partly blamed on increased demand coupled with disruptions in supply, and on illegal trade in conflict zones.

Officials in several central African states say vehicle owners, truck drivers and motorcyclists in major cities wait for several hours, sometimes days, to fill their tanks as pumps have been regularly running dry since fuel shortages started several months ago.

Cameroonian officials partly blame ongoing disruptions to stormy weather off the Atlantic coast, stranding cargo ships at the regional hub port of Lome, Togo.

The landlocked Central African Republic, which receives fuel supplies through Cameroon's Douala seaport, also reports disruptions. Aid agencies in the country, which has been hit by sectarian violence, say if nothing is done to stop the fuel crisis, delivery of needed humanitarian aid will be affected.

A severe fuel crisis is also stirring social unrest in Chad. Officials there report protests in the capital, N'djamena, and in towns including Bongor, Moundou, Faya-Largeau and Abeche, where the military this week said it dispersed protesters with tear gas.

Chad's military government said this week that its troops seized hundreds of containers of fuel illegally transported to the border with Sudan. Chad says contraband fuel trade increased on its border with Sudan since ferocious fighting broke out in Sudan's civil war in April.

Amina Ehemir Torna, director General of Chad's Downstream Sector Regularization Authority, which is responsible for the regulation, control and monitoring of standards of petroleum operations there, said merchants should immediately stop illegal exports to neighboring countries that are also facing severe fuel shortages. Torna said gasoline and diesel fuel are highly combustible and should not be stored in jerry cans and buckets at home with the hope of selling to illegal vendors at exorbitant rates should the ongoing fuel shortage persist.

Sudan's fighting shut down businesses and forced civilians and fuel merchants to flee the northeastern African state. Chadian officials say Sudanese civilians who brave the fighting, as well as troops of Sudan’s national army and a rival national paramilitary force, rush to Chad's porous 1,400-kilometer border for fuel regularly.

Salisu Yunissa, president of Chad’s Consumers Union in Adré, a town in Ouaddai province that is home to about 210,000 Sudanese refugees, said the shortage has plunged host communities and refugees into deeper poverty and is causing unprecedented increases in the prices of rice, onions, corn, millet and sorghum. He said a 30-kilogram bag of onions that sold at $40 had tripled in price to about $120 within the past two months.

Yunissa said the price hikes, environmental disasters, and armed conflicts make living very difficult for a majority of civilians who are not sure of a meal each day.

There is some hope the situation will change soon in the region. Chad, Cameroon and the CAR this month regulated fuel sales to 20 liters per motorist with the aim of stabilizing supply and demand. Chad says its shortage will improve when a refinery in N'Djamena that closed in April for maintenance reopens, although it did not say when that would happen.

Cameroon says besides the liberalization of petroleum products imports, it is importing what it calls enough quantities to meet the country's increasing demand for fuel.